Alternate Bismarck Campaign

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dharma6
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Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by dharma6 » Fri Aug 17, 2012 8:45 pm

What was the decisive “event” that allowed the Royal Navy to sink Bismarck? And what if the Royal Navy failed to sink her on that fateful maiden voyage?
The sinking of the Bismarck was a series of strange quirks, mishaps, misjudgments that all needed to happen for the British to be successful. There are so many of these oddities lined up one atop another, that one wonders what may have happened if one or more of these quirks of fate had not occurred.

Consider:
What if her fuel hose had not been damaged, which cost Bismarck 200 tons of fuel before the mission? What if Lutjens had elected to "top off" his fuel at Bergen while Prince Eugen was refueling there? What if Bismarck had rendezvoused with the oiler Weissenburg in the Norwegian sea before running the Denmark Strait? These fuel issues made the chance hit by Prince of Wales on Bismarck's fuel bunker a serious factor that might have otherwise been mitigated.
What if Bismarck's radar had not been damaged in the action against Norfolk & Suffolk, and therefore Prince Eugen had not been ordered to take the vanguard position in the Task Force when it ran the Denmark Strait? What if Holland had placed Prince of Wales in the vanguard of his task force, bowing to the realization that she had the better armor to lead in the attack?

What if the British had correctly identified Bismarck, and both Prince of Wales and Hood engaged her, leaving Prince Eugen alone? What if all the shells that hit targets in that engagement had exploded? (No duds)? What if Hood had not been struck that fateful and very lucky blow? What if Lutjens had selected the Faeros Iceland Gap instead of the Denmark Strait, where it was the cruiser Arethusa, without radar, that first encounters her. In that instance it would have been King George V and Repulse that intercepted the German task force first, and how would they have fared against Bismarck and Prince Eugen?
What if The British pilots off Ark Royal had not attacked Sheffield by mistake, discovering the bad magnetic pistols on their torpedoes in the process? What if that lucky Swordfish strike had not hit Bismarck's rudders? What if U-556 had not feasted on merchant ships and her Capt Wohlfarth had a few torpedoes left when he spotted HMS Rodney en route to the final battle with Bismarck?

Stacking all these questions up shows just how chancy the sinking of the Bismarck was. But trying to change the outcome by fiddling with any of the above levers may not be as easy as one might think. Kurt Lewin said it well when he wrote: “If you want to truly understand something, try to change it.”

The novel Golem 7 is an alternate history retelling of the hunt for the Bismarck where all these strange quirks of fate, chance occurrences, misjudgments and bad decisions are examined to see which, if any were decisive levers on the outcome of the campaign. It tells the story of a project team monitoring events and reported history by use of a clever program migrating through the internet called a “Golem.” Installed on millions of user computers, the Golems constantly monitor the history recorded on the Internet and compare it to the data stored in a massive “RAM Bank” to look for variations of contradictions. The novel opens when one of the researchers identifies a confounding change in the history of WWII—the battleship Bismarck was not sunk on her maiden voyage! Now the team sets out to discover how and why this could have happened, and resolves to “sink the Bismarck” and restore the history they know by means of a clever intervention that allows them to broadcast information through time—right to the British Admiralty engaged in the desperate hunt for the German battleship, which receives unaccountable, yet credible “intelligence” as the campaign unfolds. Yet as they struggle to aid the Royal Navy, the project team learns just how precarious the campaign was, and how chancy and uncertain the final outcome was as they struggle to put the dreadful German raider in her watery grave. Great read for Bismarck fans! Anyone interested in the story can learn more here: http://www.writingshop.ws/html/golem_7.html

I am interested to hear the opinions of anyone else examining these events. Did all these quirks of fate have to happen for Bismarck to sink?
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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by alecsandros » Sat Aug 18, 2012 3:09 pm

HI,
Another very interesting "what if" would be "what if Prinz Eugen stayed with Bismarck". Would the Swordfishes still manage to hit anything, when confronted by the AA fire of both GErman ships ? Would they be confused as to which ship is which, just as Adm Holland on board Hood was a few days earlier ? Would Bismarck still be hit in the rudder, or be hit at all ?

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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by Dave Saxton » Sun Aug 19, 2012 3:01 pm

The German Navy also judged the loss of Bismarck as a chance thing. Thus they made plans to send out Tirpitz and Hipper, judging that the chances of a repeat outcome were not that great. The British cracking of the Naval Enigma within weeks would have made further Atlantic operations very difficult, and a prolonged operation by Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had they broke out clean unlikely, however.

Looking at a few of the points:
It's likely that Luetjens would have ordered Prinz Eugen into the lead regardless of the radar situation on Bismarck, so that he could use Bismarck's more deadly artillery against the shadowers in a more concerted effort to break contact.

It's likely that the Germans would have targeted the Hood even if the POW was in the lead because the Hood had larger guns. Even if the Germans had targeted the POW first, we can not assume that the POW would have withstood the hits that much better. Once the British turned to unmask their after turrets reducing the target angle at the battle ranges the British eventually closed to; the POW would also of had insufficient immunity.

The hit that destroyed Hood may have not been just a matter of extremely bad luck. The Hood had little to no immunity to Bismarck's firepower at any battle range.

Most of the shells (of both sides) that failed to explode did so because they only encountered relatively light plating, and would therefore only detenotate in cases of if they had encountered heavier plating.

If Luetjens had taken a path that only brought them into contact with a cruiser patrol without radar, then it's most likely that the British can not maintain contact and the Germans break out cleanly into Atlantic without KGV and Repulse intercepting. Even if they do intercept, the Germans are likely to engage Repulse first and sink it. There's also a chance that the Germans break out completely un-noticed.
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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by steffen19k » Mon Aug 20, 2012 3:23 am

The genuine problem with "What if" is that too many people know the historical outcome, and that only by deleting that knowledge can an accurate scenario be made up and then a more realistic happening of events can occur.

In that light, I have to believe that if it were ME, I would have made the same decision Lutjens did in using the largest body of water available.

However, I would have operated under the belief that my return to home port would be a very difficult thing to accomplish, and that means fueling up at every opportunity, and I would most definitely maintain the most fuel economical speed to maximize fuel economy, and run as silently as I could. Sometimes the ability to deny the enemy even the most basic intelligence is grossly underestimated.

The factors that cannot be calculated: Being picked up by Suffolk/Norfolk, and the Spitfire photo recon that managed to detect Bismarck.

Things that would have a bearing: Battle of the River Plate 1 year previously.

One thing I would find myself thinking long and hard about. "If everything went right, what then?"

I would certainly consider a joint attack with the Italians on the Strait of Gibraltar and coordinating with the Vichy French for an invasion of Malta. I would also work with the Japanese to conduct a naval blockade of the Suez Canal. A Japanese Carrier Group at the South and a composite surface action group in the north truly would have squeezed the Brits in Egypt hard.

My reasonings for this are as follows: The point of the war in 1940 would be (and failed) to isolate the British Empire as quickly and as efficiently as possible, which means line of communication with the British holdings in the far east, and controlling access to the Dutch East Indies is absolutely mandatory.
The one thing I would most be relying on is absolutely NO pearl harbor. Keep America neutral, and definitely avoid pissing off Stalin.

And that's my take in a nutshell...

Thanks for hearing out my two cents...

PS: All that said. what would the effect of Bismarck Cruising at a leisurely 15 knots and Lutjens playing it cool in the first few days of Rheinubung have been on the fuel shortaged RN at the time???
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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by RF » Mon Aug 20, 2012 5:44 pm

I think that there are too many questions being asked in the initial post, which really prevents too much discussion on all of the issues raised. Most of the various issues are covered over a multitude of previous threads.

However if we were to take the first sentence as the central theme of this thread, the loss of Bismarck was down to the destruction of its rudder and ability to steer in a rough sea, together with the absence of any realistic back up from German forces based around Biscay. The lesson again being that a lone raider is exactly that; alone.
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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by tommy303 » Mon Aug 20, 2012 7:22 pm

It may seem a bit draconian, but experience of raiders in WW1 seem to indicate that essentially, unless everything goes perfectly, is pretty much a no-deposit/no return affair; ships should be counted as
expendable--although one hopes one can get them back to a friend--hence the advantage of the auxiliary cruiser over the regular warship.

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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by RF » Wed Aug 22, 2012 7:48 am

But that was only because Germany - with the world's second biggest navy - was hemmed in by a British blockade that was easily facilitated by geography. The British forsaw that, the Germans didn't. Otherwise the Germans would have kept substantial forces in their colonial possessions instead of a handful of cruisers. The fact that the German ships were so short ranged made the British blockade easier.

Had the Germans seized Norway in 1914 and based the High Seas Fleet in the Norwegian fjiords the whole dynamic of the war in the North Sea and the distant blockade by the British would have altered. Indeed it also opens up the possibility of the Germans seizing Iceland....
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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by Ersatz Yorck » Wed Aug 22, 2012 8:24 am

RF wrote:But that was only because Germany - with the world's second biggest navy - was hemmed in by a British blockade that was easily facilitated by geography. The British forsaw that, the Germans didn't. Otherwise the Germans would have kept substantial forces in their colonial possessions instead of a handful of cruisers. The fact that the German ships were so short ranged made the British blockade easier.
The problem is that larger forces would have been more difficult to supply, just look at the fate of von Spee. More long endurance light cruisers would have been useful, but the German Navy didn't have those.

But as has been pointed out earlier in this thread, the German WW1 fleet succeeded eminently in making an enemy of Britain, but it had no realistic plans on how to fight that enemy once war came.
RF wrote: Had the Germans seized Norway in 1914 and based the High Seas Fleet in the Norwegian fjiords the whole dynamic of the war in the North Sea and the distant blockade by the British would have altered. Indeed it also opens up the possibility of the Germans seizing Iceland....
That is a very interesting idea!Weserübung seems like yet another case of fighting the last war better. When one thinks about it, a lot of German naval decisions in WW2 stems from WW1, not that that should be surprising...

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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by Ersatz Yorck » Wed Aug 22, 2012 8:47 am

dharma6 wrote:What was the decisive “event” that allowed the Royal Navy to sink Bismarck? And what if the Royal Navy failed to sink her on that fateful maiden voyage?
The sinking of the Bismarck was a series of strange quirks, mishaps, misjudgments that all needed to happen for the British to be successful. There are so many of these oddities lined up one atop another, that one wonders what may have happened if one or more of these quirks of fate had not occurred.
To answer the original question. I do not think it was some quirks or events that led to the fate of the Bismarck. On the contrary, only a series of quirks and luck would have let Bismarck succeed. British preparations in the form if more effective air coverage, better technology (radar) and intelligence led to an undiscovered breakout into the Atlantic being very unlikely. Indeed, British preparations to prevent a recurrence of operation Berlin and Germans doing the same thing over again (but in a time of year less suited to the operation) might almost be seen as the Germans walking obligingly into a trap.

And even if Bismarck had broken out into the Atlantic, the amount of shipping sunk by surface raiders was a drop in the Atlantic compared to what the u-boats sank, though admittedly, the presence of a raider in the Atlantic did disrupt convoy schedules and but great strain on the RN. The Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had already been loose in the Atlantic for several months before, and not accomplished all that much compared to the u-boats. Despite the Bismarck being (barely) the worlds largest battleship at the time, the fighting power of the Bismarck + Prinz Eugen was not very different from that of Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. I can easily picture the S&G at the Denmark straits with the battle having more or less the same result (an interesting what if in itself BTW).

Lastly, even if Bismarck had not been torpedoed in the rudder, she would just have slunk into Brest to become another magnet for British bombers, languishing forever damaged and with untrained crew like the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and later Prinz Eugen.

The reason the Bismarck episode is so comparatively overhyped is IMHO that it distracted from another British debacle that occurred at the same time (Crete) and provided the British with a handy propaganda victory. And the fight and destruction of a single ship easily captures the imagination and offers a spot of individuality in the large and often complex and faceless web of the war.

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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by Djoser » Wed Aug 22, 2012 8:49 am

RF wrote:But that was only because Germany - with the world's second biggest navy - was hemmed in by a British blockade that was easily facilitated by geography. The British forsaw that, the Germans didn't. Otherwise the Germans would have kept substantial forces in their colonial possessions instead of a handful of cruisers. The fact that the German ships were so short ranged made the British blockade easier.

Had the Germans seized Norway in 1914 and based the High Seas Fleet in the Norwegian fjiords the whole dynamic of the war in the North Sea and the distant blockade by the British would have altered. Indeed it also opens up the possibility of the Germans seizing Iceland....
Wow, one of the most imaginative and intriguing ideas yet, in my favorite part of this most excellent forum. Thanks for posting it!

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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by RF » Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:07 pm

Ersatz Yorck wrote: The reason the Bismarck episode is so comparatively overhyped is IMHO that it distracted from another British debacle that occurred at the same time (Crete) and provided the British with a handy propaganda victory. And the fight and destruction of a single ship easily captures the imagination and offers a spot of individuality in the large and often complex and faceless web of the war.
I don't think it is over hyped - it really was very important to the British and indeed for the Germans. The British remember lost their premier prestige ship, HMS Hood, so it was a fairly open victory. Rheinubung had major strategic implications - and results, which perhaps neither side expected.

Yes, Crete was an embarrasing defeat - at the time. But strategically the Germans actually lost far more. As Churchill pointed out, it was a defeat which at the same time had prevented the Germans invading Cyprus and/or Malta, and from moving into Turkey, Syria and Iraq... while Hitler lost confidence in airborne infantry assaults that he forbade future operations, simply because of the casualty rate the Germans sustained.
Crete is a very good example of it being better to fight and lose a battle than not to fight at all.
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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by RF » Wed Aug 22, 2012 6:19 pm

Ersatz Yorck wrote:
RF wrote:But that was only because Germany - with the world's second biggest navy - was hemmed in by a British blockade that was easily facilitated by geography. The British forsaw that, the Germans didn't. Otherwise the Germans would have kept substantial forces in their colonial possessions instead of a handful of cruisers. The fact that the German ships were so short ranged made the British blockade easier.
The problem is that larger forces would have been more difficult to supply, just look at the fate of von Spee. More long endurance light cruisers would have been useful, but the German Navy didn't have those.
I was thinking of East Africa and South West Africa rather than Tsingtao, which was in an exposed position such that von Spee abandoned it as soon as war was declared.
Had the Germans posted several Army divisions permanently in southern Africa, together with a force of battle cruisers, airships and supply vessels then a major front is opened up, with the possibility of the Germans seizing Capetown; had the Germans at the same time helped the Turks to seize the Suez Canal, the strategic implications would be enormous....and there would also be Boer support as well, directly between the German colonies.
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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by Ersatz Yorck » Thu Aug 23, 2012 12:24 pm

RF wrote: I was thinking of East Africa and South West Africa rather than Tsingtao, which was in an exposed position such that von Spee abandoned it as soon as war was declared.
Had the Germans posted several Army divisions permanently in southern Africa, together with a force of battle cruisers, airships and supply vessels then a major front is opened up, with the possibility of the Germans seizing Capetown; had the Germans at the same time helped the Turks to seize the Suez Canal, the strategic implications would be enormous....and there would also be Boer support as well, directly between the German colonies.
With all respect, but I can't see how a force of battlecruisers and several divisions of infantry could have been maintained and supplied on the resources of Germany's African colonies. It would have been prohibitively expensive to keep them there even in peacetime, and once war broke out sea communications would in all certainty have been cut off.

But assuming they had somehow been there, sure, they could have caused trouble, maybe won some victories, but in the end it would just be von Spee or von Lettow Vorbeck on a larger scale. Britain's advantage of sea communications would have made the German force easy to cut off, and the Entente could have concentrated and supplied overwhelming forces. At the same time the absence of several army divisions from the ground in Europe would have definitely squandered any chance the Germans had of winning the war swiftly on land, which was really the only chance they had.

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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by Ersatz Yorck » Thu Aug 23, 2012 12:33 pm

RF wrote: I don't think it is over hyped - it really was very important to the British and indeed for the Germans. The British remember lost their premier prestige ship, HMS Hood, so it was a fairly open victory. Rheinubung had major strategic implications - and results, which perhaps neither side expected.
It is over hyped in the same sense as Stalingrad or Waterloo and most other "decisive" battles. It was the symbolic event of a trend changing, but really something that was bound to happen sooner or later. If Bismarck had made it to Brest she would have been bombed to impotence, and the next raider, Tirpitz would have been sunk in a dramatic action, and then we would have had a Tirpitz forum instead. If the Germans hadn't been defeated at Stalingrad, it would have been one in a row of battles only known by East Front aficionados, and the symbolic "decisive" battle on the Eastern Front would been somewhere else where the Germans would have been overconfident and underestimated Soviet strength. If Napoleon had won at Waterloo, he would have been defeated by the Russians and Austrians somewhere else a couple of weeks later (and the British couldn't have taken all the credit).

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Re: Alternate Bismarck Campaign

Post by RF » Thu Aug 23, 2012 5:52 pm

Maybe the courses of those conflicts would have gone the way you suggest, but there is sufficient doubt and uncertainty caused cumulatively over time from an alternative run of events. We cannot be sure of the outcomes you prophisise.
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